Plomer, William, 1903-1973

Alternative names
Birth 1903-12-10
Death 1973-12-21
South Africans

Biographical notes:

William Plomer was an English poet, novelist, short-story writer, librettist, and songwriter.

From the description of William Plomer collection of papers, 1921-1973. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122575712

From the guide to the William Plomer collection of papers, 1921-1973, (The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.)

William Plomer was born in South Africa and educated in England. After his education, he returned to South Africa and worked unsuccessfully as a farmer. He wrote his first novel, Turbott Wolfe, published in 1926, which caused much offence in South Africa because it dealt with interracial marriage. With Roy Campbell, he founded Voorslag in 1926, the first bilingual South African literary journal. He moved to England in 1929 and later worked as a publisher's reader and served in Naval Intelligence, 1940-1946. He wrote a few more novels, but was chiefly a poet. His Collected poems, 1960, won him a CBE and the Queen's Gold Medal for Literature. He wrote librettos for Benjamin Britten's Gloriana and his three church operas.

From the description of William Plomer letter to Dear Sir, 1956 Feb. 9. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 69936476

Epithet: author

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000560.0x000239

William Charles Franklyn Plomer was born in South Africa, and won youthful renown (and provoked local outrage) with the publication, by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press, of his first novel Turbott Wolfe (1926), which dealt with love and marriage between black and white. With Roy Campbell and Laurens van der Post he co-edited the controversial literary periodical Voorslag until Campbell quarrelled with its sponsors and resigned. Plomer, with Van der Post, then left South Africa for Japan, where he lived for over two years, teaching English and completing two collections of short stories, I speak of Africa and Paper houses, and two collections of poetry, Notes for poems and The family tree .

In 1929 he settled in England, where he was befriended by the Woolfs, who had continued to publish his work, and who brought out his next two novels, Sado (1931), set in Japan, and The case is altered (1932), and also a further volume of poems, The fivefold screen (1932). Through his contacts with the Woolfs and through his own gift for friendship, Plomer's literary acquaintance expanded rapidly, while he also maintained contact with South African writers and artists. For over forty years Plomer was at the centre of the English literary establishment. He was a prolific reviewer, and also became the influential chief reader for Jonathan Cape, who published his later work, including his selective edition (1938-1940) of the diaries of the Victorian clergyman Francis Kilvert, which established the hitherto unknown Kilvert as one of the greatest English diarists. After 1934, when Cape published his novel The Invaders, Plomer wrote relatively little fiction, although he continued to produce short stories and topical essays, sometimes during the war years under the pseudonym Robert Pagan. His poetic output, however, increased. His last novel, Museum pieces appeared in 1952, and his Collected poems in 1973. An important part of his post-war career was his collaboration with Benjamin Britten, as librettist for Gloriana (1953), and for the three church operas, Curlew river, The burning fiery furnace, and The prodigal son (1964-1968). From 1968 to 1972 he was president of the Poetry Society. Although not admitted in his published autobiographies, Double lives (1943) and At home (1958), Plomer's homosexuality was central to his life and work.

From the guide to the Plomer Collection, 1870-1973 (predominantly post-1920), (Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections)


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  • Authors, English--20th century--Correspondence
  • South African literature (English)
  • English literature--20th century


  • Editors


  • Japan (as recorded)